Ravana is popularly known as the demon king of Lanka, who plays a significant role in the Hindu epic, the Ramayana. He is also considered an ardent devotee of Shiva. Not many people, though, are aware of the different facets of Ravana. Ravana means the one who roars.
Ravana was born in Devagana to a great sage, Vishrava, who had great Yogic powers, and his wife, the demon princess Kaikesi. Ravana was the grandson of Pulastya, one among the ten Prajapatis (mind-born sons) of Brahma, the Creator, and one of the Sapta Rishis (Seven Great Sages). Ravana had other siblings, namely Kumbakarna, Vibhishana, and Shoorpanaka.
Ravana’s father Vishrava had earlier married the great sage Bharadwaj’s daughter IIavida, and they had a son Kubera, the God of wealth, the original ruler of Lanka. However, Kaikesi, the daughter of the demonic couple, Sumali and Ketumati, plotted with her parents and married the great sage. She bore him Ravana, Kumbakarna, Vibhishana, and a daughter Shoorpanaka.
Legend of Ravana
Ravana, born to the great sage Vishrava, became a great scholar of the Vedas. Along with his brothers, he performed penance on Mount Gokarna for 11,000 years and obtained boons from Brahma. Ravana won a boon that made him invincible to the creation of Brahma, and nothing could destroy him, except humans. Ravana was confident they could not harm him. Belief has it that Ravana stored the nectar of immortality below his navel, according to the boon he received from Brahma.
Legend has it that Ravana tried to take over Mount Kailasa, to please his mother. When he tried to lift the mountain with his hand, an enraged Shiva placed his big toe on the mountain, crushing Ravana’s hand. Ravana wanted to atone for his action and started a severe penance. He created a musical instrument with one hand and started singing devotional songs in praise of Shiva. The instrument is called Ravanhattha. Ravana sang for a thousand years, and Shiva, the benevolent God, pleased with the beauty of his singing, forgave him. He blessed him with an invincible sword and gave him a powerful Shiva Linga to worship.
After taking Lanka by force from his stepbrother Kubera, Ravana appointed Shukracharya as his priest and learned the Arthashastra (the science of politics) from him. Legend depicts Ravana as a powerful tyrant and an evil king. However, he ruled Lanka for hundreds of years, prior to the occurrence of the Ramayana.
Significance of Ravana
A lot was accomplished during Ravana’s reign in the fields of science and medicine. The precursor to the airplane of today during Ravana’s reign is an indication of the advancement of science during his time. Moreover, Ravana was said to be one of the great physicians, and there are seven books on Ayurveda that stand testimony to his exceptional knowledge. He also authored the Ravana Sanhita, a book on Hindu astrology., a compilation of secrets and rules revealed to him by none other than Shiva himself. The book is revered as a standard reference by astrologers even today.
Ravana, regardless of being portrayed as a cruel and ruthless demon king, was one of the most powerful and intelligent minds of all time. He had a great intellect, exceptional knowledge, sharp political acumen, and in-depth knowledge of astrology and medicine.
Science advanced tremendously during his time. Ravana was the most knowledgeable among his peers. Ravana was a scholar of high repute, a musician of prowess, and a successful ruler. He was known for his wisdom, strength, and power over the Gods, demons, as well as humans. Ravana is often portrayed with ten heads. These heads are symbolic of his mastery over the four Vedas and the six Shastras. His main ambition was to conquer the Devas and rule over the whole universe.
Story of Lanka and the Downfall
The divine architect Vishwakarma had, built Lanka. The original ruler of Lanka was Kubera, the treasurer of the Gods and stepbrother of Ravana. Ravana was keen to become the ruler of Lanka, and he asked Kubera to hand over the kingdom to him, failing which he threatened to take it by force. Visharava disowned the demonic family after he witnessed Ravana’s disrespectful treatment of his elder stepbrother Kubera and returned to IIavida.
Ravana eventually became the king of Lanka. Lanka prospered under Ravana, but he was a ruthless king indulging in aggression against demons and human beings alike. History has it that Ravana ruled over Lanka from 2554 to 2517 BC.
Ravana fell from grace when he set his sights on Sita at her swayamwara. King Janaka of Mithila, the father of Sita, held a swayamwara for her. He would give his daughter in marriage only to the one who would be able to lift the mighty bow, blessed by Shiva. Several tried and failed, Ravana, confident he could accomplish the task, also failed to lift the bow. Shri Rama, who came to the swayamwara with his brother Lakshman, lifted the bow easily, and when he struck it, the bow broke into two. Shri Rama and Sita married amidst great pomp. Ravana was enraged and disappointed and vowed to make Sita his, one day.
Later, Ravana played a significant role in the epic Ramayana, where he abducted Sita, consort of Shri Rama. He decided to take this revenge after his sister Shoorpanaka was sent back humiliated, with her nose cut off by Lakshman, when she tried to approach Shri Rama to marry her, smitten by his looks. He directed her to Lakshman. Both brothers rejected her advances. Lakshman finally cut off her nose and ordered her back to Lanka. She reported the incident finally to her brother Ravana, who decided to take revenge and teach the brothers a lesson by abducting Sita.
Rama, an avatar of Vishnu, led an army of monkeys, primarily helped by his ardent devotee, Hanuman, and Sugriva, king of Kishkinda. He decided to fight Ravana like a warrior. The Lanka Kanda describes the mighty battle waged between the armies of Shri Rama and Ravana. The Vanasura (monkey army) of Shri Rama helped build a bridge to Lanka. In the lengthy war that ensured, Ravana’s son Indrajeet hurled a powerful weapon at Lakshman, which injured him severely. Hanuman rushed to Mount Sumeru in the Himalayas and searched for the Sanjeevani herb that would restore life. Unable to identify the herb, he carried the mountain to the battlefield, and a dying Lakshman was revived. Ravana’s sons Meghnad and Indrajeet were killed in the war.
Finally, Shri Rama and Ravana came face to face. Rama shot several arrows at Ravana, but they were of no avail, as Ravana brushed them aside. The Gods watching from heaven became anxious, and they approached Indra, King of the Gods. Indra sent his celestial chariot driven by Matali. Indra was sure his charioteer would help Shri Rama. Rama jumped onto the chariot and resumed fighting. Matali asked Shri Rama to use the Brahma Astra and reminded him to aim it below Ravana’s navel, where the nectar of immortality was stored. Shri Rama invoked the Brahma Astra and chanted the name of Parvati, Shiva’s consort, and aimed the weapon at Ravana. The weapon pierced Ravana at the right spot. He stumbled and fell to his death. Sri Rama then rescued Sita.
Dying at the hands of Sri Rama gave Moksha (salvation) automatically to Ravana. Lanka, Ravana’s kingdom stretched over the eastern and southern parts of the country and finally was lost to the seas. Ravana Lanka was in an area of the island nation, Sri Lanka.